January 8, 2020

Dear friends,
Geez, was I on a holiday sugar high. After losing 30 pounds this year, I broke my no-sugar rule and ate ginger cookies, butter cookies, fudge, jam-topped baked Brie, sugared nuts, Japanese strawberry Christmas cake, chocolate-covered raisins and oozy chocolate-covered caramels.

Yikes.

Thankfully I gained just two pounds during my two-week splurge, but now I’m left with a fierce sugar craving. I tried to go cold turkey. Want to know how that’s working for me? I saw a recipe for coconut pie — one of those hokey impossible pies, no less — and before I knew what happened, I was in the kitchen pulling the thing out of the oven.

I won’t be shamed. I ate the damned pie (or the hunk Tony left me) and now I’m passing this burden on to you. It takes five minutes to mix and a half hour to bake. Resist it if you can.

IMPOSSIBLE COCONUT PIE

1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
3/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup Splenda granular
1/2 cup biscuit mix such as Bisquick
1 tbsp. softened butter
2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
Extra coconut for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine coconut, sugar and biscuit mix in a bowl and whisk to blend. Stir in butter. In another bowl or 4-cup measure, combine milk, vanilla and eggs and whisk to combine. Stir into the dry ingredients, mixing well.

Pour into a 10-inch pie plate coated with vegetable oil spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until the edges are brown and the center is set. Cool slightly before cutting into wedges to serve. Garnish with more coconut, if desired.

TIDBITS
I’ve been living a lie. For years I thought of myself as someone who rarely uses canned foods. If that’s true, I mused recently, then why do I have a floor-to-ceiling kitchen pantry crammed with the stuff?

True, the pantry is narrow and packages of noodles and rice share it with the cans. But that still leaves a lot of room for cans and jars on the shelves. In a quick survey I found Ro-tel tomatoes, refried beans, broths, mojo marinade, chili sauce, pumpkin, oyster sauce, lima beans, tomato soup, evaporated milk, pickled ginger, fig jam, mango chutney, coconut milk, harissa, chopped green chilies, Thai curry paste, ground espresso, dried tiny fish (Tony’s), pickled garlic (Tony’s) and a 5-year-old jar of Louisiana-style roux.

The roux is now in the garbage. The rest is in play in my mind as I try to dream up ways to use the more esoteric stuff. I should include the dried noodles, grains, beans and pulses in my list. There are an awful lot of them in an astounding variety, from buckwheat soba noodles to orange lentils. This is ridiculous. It’s time for a challenge, because I bet many of you have an unruly pantry, too.

For next week’s recipe I promise to use at least two long-overlooked items from my pantry in a recipe for See Jane Cook. In return, if you’re game, scrounge up a recipe for a pantry item or two that has been hanging around way too long. Report back. Then we’ll do it again. If we are persistent, we can whittle down the canned, bottled and packaged goods to a normal-sized stash.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Ham and lima bean soup; shrimp tempura with soba in broth (I helped Tony); strip steaks in wine sauce with baked potatoes; pork miso stew (with Tony); Mongolian barbecue sauce; ground venison with ginger and garlic for lettuce wraps; spaghetti sauce; coconut pie; egg salad; okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake).

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Steak tacos, rice, black beans and sopapillas at Casa del Rio in Fairlawn; a hamburger with onions, pickles and mustard, french fries and a Diet Coke at Bob’s Hamburg in Akron.

THE MAILBAG
From Connie D.:
I just came across your Tidbits column from the Sept. 20, 1992 Beacon Journal.
The headline was “Lest we forget, they gave us Rice-A-Roni.” You wrote a tongue-in-cheek list of “10 things Northeast Ohio has, food-wise, that San Francisco doesn’t.” I enjoyed the trip back in time, but number ten was Bil-Jac Dog Food?? Maybe it would be fun to update in your online work.

I am thinking sauerkraut balls, pierogi, and the wonderful bean salad, best made with some sort of kidney beans. I think San Francisco may have finally discovered pierogi, but only because of certain visiting politicians. Of course, I need some recipes!

Also of interest in that food section are the food store ads, one for Aldi and one for Carl’s. Do you remember Carls? Neither my spouse nor I do and an address on West Market Street rings no bells. Could it have been where Fazio’s was for years?

I had no clue there was an Aldi’s in the Akron area. What a joy to shop one in Montrose these days. Looking at the food prices back in 1992 is interesting. Things made with flour seem to have skyrocketed, while other items not so much. I now understand why some food producers can no longer make a living or are barely hanging on.

Just thought I would share my find. I enjoy your work and even try some of the recipes, when I feel brave.

Dear Connie:
Thanks for the fun email. I wrote that tongue-in-cheek list after going to a food writers’ conference in San Francisco and seeing a snarky ad for the Chronicle’s food section. It featured a picture of a Jell-O mold and compared the yokel foodies in Cleveland with the sophisticated readers of the San Francisco paper. My list, Bil-Jack and all, was a good-natured raspberry.

I used to survey food prices quarterly in three stores, including Carl’s, which became Fazio’s and then merged with another chain whose name I can’t recall. What a lot of work that ongoing project was. I had to find out why prices went up or down, which meant calling beef experts in Kansas, chicken farmers in Georgia, milk producers in Wisconsin, lettuce farmers in California’s Imperial Valley and the one guy who tracked the supply of bananas for the economists at the USDA.

It’s too bad such in-depth reporting is no longer underwritten in our area because of declining circulation. And that is just a tiny piece of the information we’ve lost.

As for that list of local foods, I wrote about that, too. Some may remember the vote we took to name Akron’s iconic food. The sauerkraut ball won. The kidney bean salad, most closely associated with Anthe’s restaurants, was in the top ten. You can find those recipes in the Akron Beacon Journal database at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, available online with a library card or through a subscription to newspapers.com.

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